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I Thought Atheists Believed in Reason

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It doesn't seem like a big deal, and it certainly wouldn't have been in Canada of the past, but today it's an issue that makes headlines.

It involves a routine blessing by a city councilor before a banquet in Saskatoon to honour civic volunteers, and ended with the dreaded word: "Amen."

Sounds harmless? Maybe once upon a time, but no longer.

A Christian prayer to bless the food about to be served is pretty standard for many functions -- Canadian and Empire Club luncheons, Rotary or Lions Club dinners, military mess dinners, convention feed fests.

According to the National Post, one Ashu Solo was so offended at a Christian prayer before the meal that he intends to lodge a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

Solo was offended because the prayer made him "feel like a second-class citizen." How come, you might ask? Because he's an atheist, and now feels he's "become a victim of religious bigotry and discrimination."

Solo, who is a member of Saskatoon's cultural diversity and race relations committee, was among those "volunteers" being honoured at the dinner. To him, a Christian prayer at a civic event violates the principle of church and state being separate.

Taxpayers' money paid for the dinner, so there should have been no urging of the Almighty (presuming there is an Almighty) to bless the food. Solo claims Canada "is not a Christian country...It is a secular, multicultural country and secular and multicultural city with ... numerous religions as well as spiritual people, agnostics and atheists."

He called the dinner prayer "religious bigotry."

This sort of fuss is happening all over the place these days. Unfortunately (for some), human rights commissions are an invitation for extremist accusations and create alienation by abandoning common sense.

It could be argued that citizens who believe in any religion are unlikely to feel humiliated or discriminated against by a pre-dinner prayer.

Why is it that those who don't believe in God, whose religion is disbelief, are more likely to be offended by the mention of God? Surely, only an extremist lacking in faith would take offence at a benign plea to the Divinity before a banquet.

Solo wants an apology from Saskatoon mayor Don Atchison and assurances that there'll be no more prayers at civic events. One hopes Mayor Atchison politely tells him to stuff it.

And it would be reassuring if the human rights commission assured Solo that a blessing before a meal may be a ritual, but it's not religious bigotry. If he feels second-class, it's his own doing.

Meanwhile, the tribunal chief of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, Shirish Chotalia, is having a nervous breakdown, or something that has persuaded her to take "stress leave" after the Federal Court criticized her management.

As well as employee complaints against her being upheld by an independent investigator, the Federal Court ruled against Chotalia's support of the federal government's refusal to give equal funding to off-reserve aboriginal children as it does to on-reserve kids.

The judge questioned the fairness of the decision and ordered that the issue be reviewed again. Hence Chotalia's "stress leave."

If there were no human rights commissions, Chotalia would have no excuse for being stressed out, and no one would be paying attention to Solo's silly rants. Is that reason enough to be rid of them?

Probably not.